New attitude paying big dividends for Kochera, St. Viator
We can sometimes talk ourselves into anything, just like we can talk ourselves out of anything.
St. Viator senior guard Connor Kochera knows this to be true in his own life. And he says that he has talked himself right into being the basketball player he is today.
And that player is one of the best scorers in the suburbs.
Kochera, who will be playing at Division I William & Mary next season, is averaging 25 points per game this season and has been on an all-out barrage lately, averaging 31 points per game over the Lions' current six-game winning streak.
Kochera scored his 1,000th career point earlier this season and has had multiple 30-point games, as well as a 40-point game in January.
"It's 100 percent my attitude going into games," Kochera said of the difference between his play this season versus earlier in his career, when he was more of a role player for St. Viator. "I've completely changed my attitude. I think that in the past, I was probably complacent sticking to my role.
"But I realized I wasn't satisfied with that. So this summer, I changed the way I looked at what I expected out of myself. I go into games now telling myself that I am going to dominate this game, that I am going to play well. It's no big pep talk, it's nothing crazy, it's just a different outlook that really changes my confidence. I feel like I've really unlocked my confidence."
A different outlook certainly isn't Kochera's only ace in the hole.
He's blessed with a sharp shooting eye (he's 45 percent from 3-point range) and he's put in the work to support his high expectations, through hours and hours in the gym.
"It's definitely lonely, all that time in an empty gym by yourself, just shooting and shooting. Sometimes it's even a little boring," Kochera said. "But I love it. And it pays off. I'm really happy with results like these."
Kochera scored a career-high 40 points against Waukegan in a Martin Luther King tournament at Lakes last month. He also scored his 1,000th point in that tournament against Naperville Central and has scored 30 or more points at least five times this season.
His biggest strength is his versatility and being able score just as easily on a drive as he can on a 3-pointer, or when he's being draped by two or three defenders.
"I thought we defended Connor really well when we played him a couple weeks ago, and he still had 28 points on us and hit all three of his 3-pointers," Carmel coach Zack Ryan said with a laugh. "We prepped all week for him, but he's so tough. Connor is one of the most intelligent basketball players I've seen. He moves without the ball so well, the way he uses screens and can get open shots for himself, I say to our guys, 'Watch this kid and the way he moves.' That's hard for high school kids because so many of them want to stand there and watch the ball. Connor doesn't do that.
"He's a great high school player and kids should watch the way he plays. He's fun to watch and he's the real deal."
Things got very real for Kochera just before the season started.
He was excited for his senior year after training hard over the summer to take his game to a higher level. He was ready to be confident, and a leader, and the Lions' go-to player.
But he started noticing some strange things happening with his body.
"I had this two-week period or so where I was just always thirsty. I would drink tons and tons of water and I just never could quench my thirst," Kochera said. "I was tired, too."
Finally, Kochera went to the doctor and was diagnosed with Type I diabetes.
"It was out of nowhere," Kochera said. "I have absolutely no family history of this, not even cousins or aunts and uncles. And I don't even eat sweets because I had given those up (as part of training). I don't eat sugar or candy or cookies or brownies or anything.
"The first thing I thought about was basketball. How would this affect basketball? Would I still be able to play? I had worked so hard over the summer and was ready to start the season."
But Kochera says his doctors immediately assured him that he could still live a normal life and be an elite athlete.
"I just have to take four shots a day of insulin," said Kochera, who administers the shots to himself under his rib cage. "The first time I did the shots, it was weird, but I'm OK with it now. It's a little extra stress in my everyday life, but it's nothing unbearable. I'm just grateful that I'm still playing."
Not just playing, but often dominating, as he has told himself that he can.
"I am really happy with where I am and how far I've come," said Kochera, now in his third year on varsity. "I was kind of a (secondary) player in the past, so some people might be surprised by the season I'm having. But I'm not surprised. I expected myself to step up this year. I knew I could fill that role (of go-to player).
"It's amazing what having a little confidence in yourself can do."
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw